Balance may make you think of ballerinas -- but the often-neglected skill is just as important to linebackers, point guards, and regular Janes and Joes. "Balance is the foundation of avoiding injury and performing well," says David Jack, director of Teamworks Fitness in Acton, Massachusetts, and creator of the High-Intensity Body-Weight Workout. Balance helps to prevent falls -- the leading cause of injury-related death in older adults -- but it's also a skill any active man or woman should work on. "Coordination, endurance, work capacity, speed, strength -- they’re all built on the foundation of balance."
How? When your balance is poor, your body does what it can to keep you from falling -- and that's usually something it shouldn't be doing. For example, your knee might jut forward when you land a jump. The good news: You don't topple over. The bad: It puts extra pressure on your knee. Over time, the joint will break down, resulting in a painful condition called patellar tendonitis. "Many injuries -- hamstring pulls, Achilles tendonitis, ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tears -- can be traced back to a movement pattern that has gone wrong," Jack says.
It sounds strange, but poor balance can also make you slower. When your muscles sense instability, your brain picks up on those signals. So that you don't hurt yourself, your brain inhibits the muscles involved. That means no matter how hard you try, you won't be able to put more horsepower into the movement, Jack says.
To improve your balance, try the single-leg straight-leg deadlift reach. What makes the exercise so effective? It forces you to stabilize on one leg while moving the opposite arm -- just like you do when you're running or playing sports.
Watch the video below to see how to do the single-leg straight-leg deadlift with perfect form. And for a complete workout that will blast fat, build muscle, and chisel your middle, check out The Best Ab Workout Ever.